Summertime is a popular season for festivals, especially in Rochester. After all, the Flower City is quite the festival hub. While not quite as big a draw as the Lilac Festival or the Xerox International Rochester Jazz Festival, the 48th Annual Puerto Rican Festival is a time-honored tradition — it’s the longest-running ethnic festival in Monroe County, in fact — that brings in spectators from far and wide. And while this year’s festivities were full of good cheer, the celebrations were not free of controversy.
The festival was held in Frontier Field’s VIP parking lot, which was filled with hundreds of people hoping to enjoy the music, food, games, wares, performances, and contests. While many of the attendees call Rochester home, there was no shortage of out-of-towners. Americans tend to drive the most during the summer months, traveling an average of 30.6 miles per day. But families from all across New York state came to enjoy the cultural festival, making treks of more than 100 miles to reach their destination.
Angel Rivera, who traveled from Utica with his children and nephew, spoke to a Democrat and Chronicle reporter on the uniqueness of the festival.
“It’s nice to see something like this go on,” said Rivera. “You just don’t see things like this in Utica.”
Rivera’s sentiments were echoed by Keysha Matos of Rochester, crowned 2017 Miss Puerto Rico Rochester Queen.
Matos told the Democrat and Chronicle, “It is so important to bring the community together to spread light and unite all the people — Puerto Rican, hispanic, black, white… Everyone can come here and spend time with their family and have fun.”
But over the last few years, reports Spectrum News, the festival has found itself linked with police incidents. While Rochester Police Department Chief Michael Cimenilli notes that these crimes really have more to do with the lingering crowds than the festival itself, its reputation in the community isn’t a wholly positive one.
Unfortunately, this year’s festival did not end without incident. According to Spectrum, glass bottles and rocks were thrown at officers, who had to work for hours to break up the crowds and restore order. All told, 15 people were arrested: 11 were charged with traffic-related offenses, three were charged with disorderly conduct, and one individual was arrested for obstructing governmental administration (resisting arrest).
In addition, a 21-year-old female, Unique Kearse of Rochester, died in a rollover crash on Remington Street. While 3 million people are injured every year in U.S. car accidents, this particular situation may not be so straightforward. Officers believe that other individuals were hanging onto the exterior of the car as part of a procession before the crash occurred. Witnesses said that at least one man fell off the car’s roof and injured his arm in the process. But at the time of the crash, Kearse was the only one in the vehicle. The accident is currently under investigation.
While these episodes continue to plague the festival, law enforcement has historically been careful to point out that the cultural celebration itself is not to blame. The focus should be on the rich heritage highlighted by the festival, says this year’s Miss Puerto Rico Rochester Red Princess, Julisa Quinones.
Quinones told the Democrat and Chronicle, “We get to express our culture, show our talents, and share our food.”
Members of the community and Rochester police hope that this sense of optimism and commemoration will have a positive impact going forward.